Gulls Exit Interview: Kevin DineenMay 28, 2021
By AJ Manderichio, Joe Spurrier and Aaron Cooney/SanDiegoGulls.com
Kevin Dineen is enjoying his San Diego home a little more these days.
San Diego's head coach kept his primary residence this season, making the commute up and back to Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena during the unique 2020-21 season.
"Towards the end I was staying in a hotel on game nights and that kind of thing," he told the media during his season wrap-up today. "Again I had great support from the organization. Our equipment manager Joey (Guilmet) would come and pick me up a few mornings so I could do a little work on the way. But you know you’re burning three hours a day on the road versus working on what you need to get on.
"A little bit of a challenge and I enjoyed it the first couple months. Lots of phone calls to my buddies out east on the way with a three-hour head start. But as we wore down it got a little challenging. It makes for good memories. And I’m an expert at the military base there. I know everything that goes on up there now when they’re doing their training."
Dineen once again presided over a successful season for the Gulls. The head coach finished the regular season with a 26-17-1-0 (.602) record for San Diego’s second consecutive top-three finish in the Pacific Division. The Gulls rank second in the American Hockey League in wins (56) and points (121) in Dineen’s first two seasons.
With a win Feb. 5, 2019 at San Jose, Dineen (155) passed Dallas Eakins as the winningest head coach of an Anaheim Ducks primary affiliate. Dineen leads Anaheim’s primary affiliate head coach’s in all-time games coached (341), wins (191), points (420) and points percentage (.616%). On Feb. 21, 2021, Dineen became the 22nd head coach in AHL history to reach 300 wins.
Below is a transcript of Dineen's media availability, lightly edited for clarity.
On the season:
Well I’m going to start a little bit less about performance and more about the execution of our staff. When we’re talking about that – just the equipment guys and the amount of logistics, getting our equipment from the San Diego area up into Irvine and outfitting a full locker room up there in that fabulous facility. There were a lot of moving parts, our medical staff having the challenge of dealing with testing every single day and making sure we worked in a really healthy environment.
To follow that up with our management group, just kind of holding all the pieces together. Every team can tell that story. I read an article on the Barracuda’s season and I have to give [San Jose Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer] a lot of credit by the sounds of it. We had it pretty easy compared to way things rolled for them. I think all of us had that. I think we stayed flexible throughout the year. We tried to just make it an enjoyable, healthy environment for everybody to come and play. I think we had success in that area to start things off.
On getting through the season without a positive COVID test:
That just follows through on what I was just talking about. I think there was a level of discipline by the players, understanding this was going to be a unique situation. That took some discipline away from the rink to be able avoid situations where you may put yourself in a situation that would affect your ability to come to the work or do your work. Again, there were a lot of moving parts, I know we had a few little challenges around, but for our bubble, we were very pleased with how things went. Right until the end, all of a sudden, things were starting to loosen up here in the last week and we were able to work inside our environment without masks.
We were kind of teasing that we really only knew these players from the tip of their nose to the top of their ballcap. That’s really true, and I’ll admit, there was one player I called into my office and I had a meeting all set for him. The next thing, Sly [Gulls assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre] sat down next to me and said, ‘hey, would you mind if I sat in on this meeting’. I wasn’t really sure why he wanted to sit down with a right winger and it turned out it was Axel Andersson. I looked over and fortunately, I didn’t miss a beat because he was on my list to talk to that day and I had some clips for him, but I had grabbed the wrong guy. There’s a few lighthearted moments along the way and that’s the fun of going to the rink every day.
On exit interviews:
Well we don’t have formal exit interviews – number two starts at 9 a.m. and number three at 9:10 a.m. I think we have a little less formality in the way we do our business, but we were certainly available. Our management was available and our coaching staff was available. To a player, they made a point of swinging in and at the end of it, you can start going through all the areas.
In all honesty, we talked about those things all year. It’s not something that all of a sudden where you have to go home and work on – those are conversations that are had daily. Our players, we feel get plenty of feedback on their games. You get an idea of what they’re up to. I know Olle [Eriksson Ek] and a couple of his teammates were pretty excited about Minnesota winning the other night because they had immediate plans if there was a Game 7 in Vegas, he was going to go see his brother. So good for them to catch a game. It’s a nice family moment, but for three of our players to go see Game 7 in Vegas, that’s going to be a heck of a hockey game.
A lot of conversations along those lines and mixing in a little bit of, ‘Hey, steps were made this year and that’s all well and good, but you’re never staying the same. You have to keep building and there’s an ultimate goal and that’s to play for the Anaheim Ducks.’
On changes in coaching throughout the season:
Every year you learn different things. For us this year, I think we saw growth in the way we do our business. I think, as always, you feel like you have your hands in a lot of different areas. We were incredibly well supported. [Team Services Manager] Jeff Goduti goes unmentioned all the time and he’s a huge member of this staff. When we get to our day-to-day work, to know the preparation that Sylvain Lefebvre does with our D, and the amount of feedback that he gave, there’s great comfort in there. Just a little bit on the management side, understanding there’s a great level of support around you.
You take our final series – in the past, we’ve felt like we could’ve gone up and stayed the night before and then stayed over on (Saturday) and play on Sunday. Instead we made it a business trip and went up and back both times. That had a little effect in our play. We felt like we were ready and prepared for those games. Just a lot of little areas that I think you just pick up some tidbits and make a few notes, and you get some nice feedback for yourself over the summer moving into the coming year.
On CHL allowing 18 and 19-year-old players to play at the AHL level this season:
I’m a huge supporter of hockey at all levels. I know the women are playing in a series right now. I know that Canadian Juniors are a business – they rely on their gate. You have a player or may or may not be in your lineup that can affect your performance and your bottom lines so I’m very respectful of those things. I also see that a window has opened this year that a lot of players, and it’s easy to just use our team and see the growth of our players that if it was under normal circumstances, would’ve played in Sarnia or Erie. There was great growth by those players being able to play against men.
On Benoit Olivier Groulx:
He did get the callup there for a week which we were all really excited about. With Bo, I’d almost say my exit meeting was with his dad up in Bakersfield because his dad was around the hotel after and we had a great little visit and we talked a little hockey around the league and Bo’s performance this year. Really, I didn’t really treat him like one of the young guys. I put him in a lot of roles that we felt he was prepared for and would be an effective player. I think he took that to heart and really developed his game in a lot of different ways. On the defensive side killing penalties, he had power-play time. I think he was offensively important to our team at times over the course of the year.
There’s always areas to continue to work at. All of a sudden you get a series and you’re going up against a little different players in the faceoff dot as far as players that are pretty skilled and may have a lot of experience in that area. I’ll point out [Bakersfield Condors forward] Adam Cracknell who I felt like was the best player in our final series and looks like he’s carried that right into the area that he is now. He’s a handful in the dot and getting the chance to go against him was a good experience. Growth doesn’t always come with success. Part of that is a learning process and I thought that Bo has taken great steps and I’m really excited about his future.
On Jacob Perreault and Axel Andersson:
We felt like Jacob is a really impactful player when he’s able to play in an offensive or at least a top-six role I would say. It felt like there wasn’t a good fit in there. And that’s part of the learning process too. I look at last year, you look at Jani Hakanpaa was a healthy scratch I think once last year and I was a little scared walking around the hotel that I was going to run into him because he was mad. At the end of it, when he came out of that, his game just took off and got better and better and better. To see him in the playoffs right now and the impact he’s having in the Carolina lineup is a really great thing and a nice thing for a guy like Sylvain Lefebvre to see as well. The point is, you know what, part of it is not always making the lineup. Understanding that there’s precious minutes that are earned. I think Jake’s still a young guy that we feel strongly about his future and he had a lot of learning this year being around a lot of quality veterans. That was good things.
You get to Axel, I think Ax is a guy I didn’t really know. He’s the kind of player that, number one, is a great testament to our scouting and the way we go about our business. Ax comes in and I had a little look at his play in Europe and boy, there was times towards the end of the year I had the two of them in the lineup, Ax and Jamie (Drysdale) at the same time, and I wasn’t sure which was which when they were on the ice. Some similarities in their size and their skating ability. Jamie got some great looks with the Ducks year. And we’re very excited about both of these players’ future. It was a great first year as a pro that he came into our lineup and immediately worked himself seamlessly into our group and was an effective player on a nightly basis.
On the Ducks commitment to Gulls and AHL success:
You know it goes back to my time years ago working in Portland and having some young players there that went on to great NHL careers. Those are always the players that fans might remember but there’s a lot of depth at this level that goes into…I think there’s always been a priority in this organization on development and I’ve seen it for 15 years now and a nice stretch of getting a look at organizations in the middle there. I know that they put quality veterans around us.
The one thing I did mention to our players on the way out, at the end they had heard my voice enough, but I think we had a management meeting more than any other kind of meeting at the end. But I did mention that I felt like they really missed something not being exposed to San Diego. I know you’ve been there. Just the atmosphere and playing in front of your home crowds in that building. Obviously that building has some personality and some life on it, but it’s electric when we have our crew in there and our fan base. Everybody says those kinds of things, we love playing in front of our home fans. But I think San Diego has proven itself to be such quality hockey market and our players did miss that this year. That was certainly something that we did talk about at the end and I think our players are well aware of that. That’s part of it, the quality of the fan base and the atmosphere we have in San Diego. But I put a lot of credit on our management, understanding that development is important. We understand that as well. It’s turned into a good quality, healthy atmosphere we have here.
On the biggest challenges for young players going from AHL to NHL:
One - confidence. To walk into a room and have guys that have played in the NHL for a long time, most likely Hall of Fame players, that you’re playing with or against and to go out there and just play your game. I think that’s one thing. Understanding that the game is faster, it’s stronger, there is more discipline to it. I think you watch playoff games and (see) the support and the outlet passes that players have. I think at our level it gets a little more I think you probably see a more effective forechecks than you do on breakouts, if that makes sense. Those are the kind of areas that come with growth.
To see a guy like Simon Benoit go up this year and get a game and see how that goes, then ends up playing five or six games in a row. I think it’s great for his development and growth. I think that was his impression when he came back was ‘boy was it fast.’ It was interesting that he felt like against some teams he was fine, that it felt a little closer to what he’s been playing for a couple years. Then he got out there against some teams and he felt like he was standing in the middle of the I-5 with traffic going both ways. Interesting to see that.
On Lukas Dostal’s progression:
I stand by my comments after the last night that his preparation and his demeanor really didn’t change from the beginning of the year till the end. I tend to have less conversations with my goalies for no other reason than you have a full-time goalie coach there. To see the level of maturity on him and his sincere enthusiasm to be around the rink and to really improve his craft, it bodes well for his future.
On the size difference between NHL and international ice for a goaltender:
Yeah, a huge difference. Jeff Glass, he walked a great line this year being able to seamlessly go from the locker room to the coaches room. We didn’t have a lot conversations about one to the other. I really believe that with the leadership I had in San Diego, that room really had a good feel to it. (Jeff Glass) had played in Europe for a number of years. There’s definitely a difference there and I talked to both of our goalies about that at different times. To me, there’s an adjustment but over a week or two or three you get used to the different angles and being off your post and recognizing where shots are coming from and where the pass angles are as well. Things happen quicker.
I look at Canada at the World Championships right now. They’ve had some early challenges here…maybe because a lot of those guys have not played on international hockey. Things happen pretty quick. Our young goalies get a pretty good feel for it by the time they hit training camp. A lot of them are getting here a couple weeks early and skating, and we have rookie camps and those kind of things as well. So pretty seamless transition for them.
On players knowing the Seattle Kraken expansion franchise creates more opportunity for players:
No, but they’re not dumb. They understand that they’re being watched all the time. There’s not a lot of hockey going on, so they were being watched last week by a lot of different eyes and it’s not always internal, meaning through our organization. Everybody’s watching. Everybody’s got strong opinions on players. I’m always impressed when you talk to Bob Ferguson or Todd Marchant, how they have a feel for players around the league. We’re all watching and we’re all looking to keep advancing. Again our goal is to make quality players that will be great assets for the Anaheim Ducks.
On talking with other AHL coaches:
I think everybody, whether it’s Woody (Jay Woodcroft) and we have a quick little chat after the game, or Roy (Sommer) that I’ve already mentioned, and Ben (Benoit Groulx) there that his impression there was that our division may have, with our veteran presence, may have a little higher skill set than he may have saw this year. He felt like just watching three games live, obviously Bakersfield has a lot of quality veterans as do we, and I think he noticed that. You know, I had (Jay Leach) play for me in Portland and is now coaching in Providence. It’s always nice to kind of keep in touch with these guys. The NHL coaches association also does a great job. Mike Hirshfeld does a great job of keeping everybody in contact and making sure that if information that needs to be shared that that’s done.
As you know during a season, it’s no different that you guys, you see each other at the rink, but boy we get a lot of action going on. It’s kind of more time around the draft is really where you get together and visit with guys and that’s an area that we’ll miss not only this summer but we had the last summer as well.